- Get the basic information. Find out the time and location of the arrest, the arresting agency, the charges (if known), the bail (if any and if known), the jail in which the client is being held, the client’s booking number and the date, and the location of any court appearance (if known). Many counties provide this information on the local sheriff’s website. Don’t get other information from the client over the phone; although Pen C §636 prohibits eavesdropping on a call between an attorney and a client, it’s not uncommon for a police officer to place calls for clients and to be nearby during the conversation.
- Give client general warnings. Explain privileged communications, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to counsel. Warn the client not to make statements to anyone without your prior knowledge and approval. Specifically, tell the client not to share information with jail inmates or to speak to parole or probation officers, police officers, members of the press, or family members about any pending or possible charges or case-related matters without counsel present.
- Admonish the client about contacts with others. Admonish the client not to have any indirect or direct contact with any potential witness against him or her because such communications may be later viewed as attempts to dissuade the witness or as an admission of guilt. Also, caution the client that visits or calls to others, e.g., a bondsperson or family member, may be overheard by jail authorities or other inmates.
- Tell the client that you’ll be there as soon as possible. It’s rare to encounter difficulties in getting in to see a jailed client. In fact, it’s a misdemeanor for any officer having custody of an arrested person to willfully refuse or neglect to allow the arrested person’s attorney to visit the prisoner. Pen C §825(b). Insist on a consultation that’s private, in-person, face-to-face, without wire screens, without open doors, and without others present or nearby; if you’re rebuffed, get a court order.
- Conduct an initial client interview. Establish a good working relationship and rapport with the client. Clients are particularly concerned with “what’s going to happen” and how soon they can be released. So it’s very important at the first interview to explain to the client the stages of the criminal process and the release opportunities. If there’s enough time for an extended interview, at least get the basics: the client’s true name, address, date and place of birth, work address, telephone numbers, and Social Security number; the name, address, and telephone number of a close relative or friend; and any information needed related to his or her responsibilities and ties to the community to try to obtain the client’s release. If the client is in the military, get the client’s rate, pay grade, duty station, ship movement, name of commanding or superior officer, duty hours, and a civilian contact. Because it’s conceivable that the interview room will be bugged, discuss highly sensitive information by exchanging written notes or whispering it in the ear.
For guidance on managing a criminal defense case, including a sample client interview form, turn to CEB’s “crim law bible,” California Criminal Law Procedure and Practice, chaps 1 and 10. Also check out the fee agreement form in CEB’s California Criminal Law Forms Manual §3.1.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- Should You Handle That Misdemeanor Case?
- 18 Questions to Spot the Issues in a Criminal Case
- Using Real Property to Post Bail? You’ll Need Double
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